Google disrupts online bookings

On the 9th March 2021 Google did something completely unexpected, they launched “free booking links”, taking everyone by surprise… after all this is Google offering hotels free direct bookings by showing their rates and availability with a live booking link. No conditions attached, no requirment to pay for advertising and available everywhere.

Want fewer OTA bookings and more direct bookings?

No one else comes near Google in terms of traffic volumes and search influence.  The booking levels on Google Zero or Google Hotel Ads clearly suggest you’ve got to be in that game.

We saw it as a “no brainer” and within 10 days Google Zero was live for free direct bookings on Google. Now just 6 months on Google Zero has delivered:

10,000+ free bookings

That’s £ millions in zero commission bookings! Bookings that would have come via the OTAs if Google Zero wasn’t there.  A similar level of bookings are generated as phone bookings or website bookings because showing your live direct rates acts as an incentive for guests to contact you.

Your live availability on Google is amazing

We’ve seen Google Zero bookings in 30 countries with over 1500 businesses receiving bookings.  A handful have even taken over 100 bookings each and across the board the booking values are high. This all adds up to very strong start and there’s much more potential particularly if you get things right.

Getting it right means:

  1. Activate Google Zero and or Google Hotel Ads
  2. Your direct rates and availability must always be the best (uniquely)
  3. Your Google My Business should be up to date with reviews responded to etc. see our earlier blog with tips:

Reducing OTA commission means competing with the OTAs for those bookings. The best (and only) place to do that effectively is on Google. That’s why we prioritise Google development, we got it live quickly with free trails and now continue to build and expand the service…. all because it is working and growing right now!

What is coming?

1. More data to monitor and improve your performance on Google
2. Greater flexibility to move between Google Zero and Google Hotel Ads
3. Reports on Google Hotels Ads showing how well your rates are performing on Google searches versus the OTAs.  A great tool to ensure your direct rates are always the best.

It’s great to show the booking numbers that prove it’s worth putting more effort into Google as a channel, if you’re not doing that you’re losing out on direct bookings.

Find out more and activate (freetobook customers) Google Zero get started.

Don’t have an account yet ? register for a freetobook account !

Tips to improve your Google business listing

Google My Business is a free tool that allows you to promote your business on Google search and maps. From your Google My Business (GMB) you can update your business profile and engage with guests.

Your Google My Business (GMB) profile is at the heart of Google bookings, managing this will increase your visibility on Google and give guests greater trust in your business.

By keeping a great business profile you’re giving Google all the data they need to trust your business, which means they’ll make you more visible than those they’re “not so sure about”.

Google is always looking for content and they’ll take it from anywhere, including the OTAs, so if you’re not providing it then you’ll have little or no influence over what’s shown to guests.  Managing your Google My Business gives you more control.

3 Key things Google really loves:


1) Complete hotel information including all available amenities.

2) Regular updates to your business profile, like adding quality photos.

3) Reviews that are read and responded to by you (the more the better).

Google uses this information and activity to understand and measure just how engaged you are with your guests. Google’s business is about providing what their visitors are looking for – relevant, original and up to date information….at speed.

So, by managing your hotel information you’re giving Google many great reasons to make you more visible on their Search and Maps.

Most businesses already have Google My Business but if you don’t then do it now here:
Sign up for Google My Business – Google My Business Help

If you haven’t logged into your Google My Business for a while then here are a few things that you can do now to improve it.

Is your Google My Business listing 100% accurate?

Your details must be 100% correct – use exactly the same format for your business name, address and contact information across all your internet listings.  This makes it easier for Google to map and trust your listing because they can check and exactly match it to other listings.

Make sure you have the right business category (Hotel, B&B etc.).

Your Google Maps location is as precise as it can be.

Check the Hotel Attributes section to ensure your hotel listings, services and amenities are up to date and complete. Google looks at these to decide when to show you in search results, especially when guests use a filter i.e. pet friendly, free wifi, parking, room details etc.  If you’ve never provided or set these attributes they will have been set by the OTAs. You can update and modify them but it can take a while before they are updated.

Use your listing to provide as much information as possible, so as well as amenities there’s the opportunity to add your COVID-19 policy, property highlights, property rating, check in time, policies etc.  Make sure you’ve added in all the details.

A fully updated business page is more likely to be shown to potential bookers and therefore get more bookings.

To login select Manage on this page: Google My Business – Drive Customer Engagement on Google

Reviews help you engage with guests

The more engaged businesses are with their guests the more likely their content is accurate and up to date. Simply put, it shows “you care” about the guest experience – which suits Google, they know businesses with current and relevant content engage more with their guests so get more clicks. The guest wins, the hotel wins and Google wins.

Reviews are critical here, get as many as you can on Google.  Many of you will have seen Google’s many review adverts on TV encouraging the public to review local businesses on Google – they are a clear indication of the value Google places on reviews.

Reply to every review you can. Responding to reviews builds trust, indeed guests view hotels that respond to reviews as nearly 2x’s more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Note: Google also imports reviews from other sites, like the OTAs and you won’t be able to reply to these so encourage your guests to review you directly on Google.

Answer questions from potential guests in the Q & A section and in some countries you can chat directly with them before they book.

Regular updates keeps your content current

Add more high quality photos and videos to keep things fresh and promote your best services.

Check your photos regularly and remove your old photos.

Photos play a huge role when guests are deciding where to book so make sure the gallery always makes you look enticing. You can report poor quality photos added by other users (including guests).

Add changes or updates to property or processes i.e. your increased hygiene standards, special check in procedures or local food and restaurants.

If you are not actively managing your Google My Business page, you should be!  It is now even easier to manage via their GMB app.

If you can provide this information along with real-time prices and availability (Google’s free booking links) you’re going to reach guests when they’re ready to book and benefit from more direct bookings!

You’ll find more information here: Google My Business – Drive Customer Engagement on Google

And here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/9177814?hl=en-GB&ref_topic=9178355

Google zero flying start

google free booking feed
Google free feed

Update: Two months into Google zero and we have received thousands of Google bookings across many hundreds of properties. Our data show that there is a significant level of bookings across a wide variety of properties and that the bookings continue to increase.

We are now sure that Google is taking bookings seriously and that any property interested in getting more bookings should be serious about Google.

If you haven’t already done it you can access the Google free feed without having to pay for any Google advertising services. It takes two minutes to set-up on freetobook and we do the rest for you.

Customers of freetobook can click here to signup for Google Zero

“We first came across Googe Zero by reading the informative blog from freetobook. Signing up couldn’t be easier – just a couple of clicks to opt in and we were connected!  We’re on the free trial and have 4 bookings (made in UK) already, so it has essentially paid for itself now.” (Bridge Hotel)

Seven facts about Google free bookings :

  1. Google free feed available on its own (no need to pay Google)
  2. Google free feed is 100% independent of paid advertising
  3. Free Google feed is available world-wide
  4. Free feed bookings are direct bookings
  5. OTAs and review sites are also in the free feed
  6. Google free bookings are only for serviced accommodation (not cottage, villa, or vacation type accommodation – sorry!)
  7. Google free feed is estimated at about 10% of the Google traffic

Freetobook are pioneers in direct booking and one of the first in the world to provide Google free bookings on its own without payment to Google. In the UK we provide a managed option to upgrade and pay for advertising to access 100% of Google traffic (100% optional – you can keep the free only if you wish).

Interested in more detail? See our previous blogs about these exciting new Google free bookings.

How to get to the top of the free feed

What is the Google free feed and why have they done it

Google zero commission

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

A few weeks into the Google free feed activation and bookings are flowing in. We are overjoyed to be providing direct commission free bookings into your diary… (No charge from Google) so make sure you don’t get left out.

Sometimes these things don’t last forever so its worth getting in as early so you can to maximise the number of commission free bookings.

You can have the Google free feed on its own, you don’t have to pay for Google advertising to be part of the free feed.

Maximising direct bookings at zero commission is one of our key pledges, we are proud once more to be the first to build solutions that genuinely help accommodation owners to thrive…

Freetobook will always prioritise direct bookings which is why you can trust us to be the first with such important services like the Google commission free bookings. It’s a great benefit to your business so why not signup to Google Zero by freetobook and get yours!

Login to your freetobook account and activate Google zero

More information on Google commission free bookings:
Google Zero is here !
Tips to get to the Top On Google free feed
Article by Craig from freetobook on phocuswire
Google’s free booking links for hotels …

Top of Google free feed

The Google free feed is now available world-wide but it is also available for OTAs and big review sites. To maximise Google free bookings you must be at the top of the free feed….

Google free feed ranking
Google free and paid feed ranking

Firstly the free feed ranking is a Google secret (but it’s easy to get to the top of it). What we do know is that Google will order the free feed to satisfy their user, that is the many millions visiting Google to check out accommodation. We also know that the free feed is independent of money paid so every accommodation owner has the same opportunity as a multi-billion dollar OTA. This has never happened before and is brilliant news for direct bookings…

Google users (just like most of us)

  1. Want to see the direct feed “official site” at the top
  2. Want to see the best price at the top
  3. Want the best availability at the top

For the first time ever this gives property owners a distinct advantage (over OTAs) if they connect availability directly with their booking system.

It is most important that you make sure you have the best rates and availability direct. This comes with a warning, if you offer OTAs or review sites a better deal they will most likely go to the top of the Google free feed.

Google free feed tips
Google free feed tips

The top position in the Google free feed is as simple as this …

  1. Have the best rate direct
  2. Have the best availability direct
  3. Do not accept OTAs/Review sites undercutting your direct rate

In this simplicity, there is amongst the suspicious of us, a feeling of fear – can it really be this simple? Clearly Google want to satisfy their customers and make Google the best place to come for accommodation booking AND we know the customer wants the best price and availability. The Google free feed is an elegant solution to provide what the customer wants, but there is an elephant in the room. How much will it cost Google in lost advertising (mostly from OTAs and Review sites)

The question the future will determine is, how much is Google willing to pay in lost advertising revenue to make Google the best place to get the best deal? The answer right now is indirect, there is simply no company better able to make this calculation profitably. Google knows exactly how to do these type of numbers and knows how to provide great search. Great search for Google now includes availability, prices, location, reviews, descriptions, comparison and booking. They also have what only Google has, vast user data and smart suggestions.

If the Google free feed continues it is likely that the future battle over the best price – the “price parity” vs. “rate fixing” argument – is going to be settled by Google de facto rather than in law where it has failed to provide the customer the best deal. Before the free feed the OTAs could pay to get their higher prices at the top of the list, not on the free feed they can’t… Bookings and customers will naturally flow to where they can get the best deal and Google wants it to be them.

One can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of OTAs and other meta review sites. They are starting to feel like second class places to go to book accommodation and that is, and must be, Google’s primary intention.. make it better than the OTAs and they will come…

The Google free feed changes everything in meta because it is genuinely better than anything else and that must put the fear in the rest.

Find out how to get listed on Google free feed – earlier blog..

Google Zero is here!

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

Google, the mighty search engine, offers accommodation owners the possibility of listing in their free booking feed. Connect your availability and rates to the free feed on its own and get zero commission bookings from Google. Get in early and take advantage of this Google giveaway, it might not last forever, who knows?

The facts ….

  1. Have the free feed on its own (no need to pay Google anything)
  2. Google free feed is 100% independent of paid advertising
  3. Free Google feed is available world-wide
  4. Free feed bookings are direct bookings
  5. OTAs and review sites are also in the free feed
  6. Google free bookings are only for serviced accommodation (not cottage, villa, or vacation type accommodation – sorry!)

Speed is the essence, maximise your direct bookings, take advantage of the free feed quickly and be the one that gets the most free direct bookings. Experience has shown us that these opportunities get diluted over time so early adopters get the most bookings.

Freetobook has always been at the forefront of technology to get you more direct bookings. We have pioneered availability with Google since 2018 (which is why we can launch this free feed only service quicky).

We introduce freetobook “Google Zero”, with this service you will be listed ONLY in the free feed. In order for us to provide, map and maintain live rates and availability to Google we will charge a small subscription fee of £49 per year, act quickly for limited free trial until 10th June 2021.

How can I get Google Zero?

Log in to freetobook and click on Tab “Plus” then select “Google Zero”

Google free booking feed by freetobook - join the direct booking revolution

Other useful information about Google free bookings…

How do I get to the top of the Google free feed ? (top tips from freetobook)

What does Google free booking link look like and why are Google doing this for free ?

Google free feed on freetobook – How ?

Google Free Hotel Ads
Google Free Hotel Ads free feed

How you can participate in that free booking link with freetobook.

In a related article we explain Why do it ? What’s in it for accommodation owners, and why we think Google is doing it.

Who can take part? The free booking link is part of Google’s Hotel Ads system, so you can see right away that Google are looking for “hotel” type accommodation.  Hotel type includes guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels but it specifically excludes vacation rental type accommodation, cottages, villas, lodges.

Eligibility

YES: for hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, hostels and apart hotels (hotel type).

NO: for cottages, chalets, villas, lodges (vacation rental type)

What do you need? You will need a booking system like freetobook that’s connected to Google, that connection (feed) sends your rates and availability with a link directly to your booking process. Freetobook have been providing this feed to Google Hotel Ads since September 2018

You also need a Google My Business listing, almost every business in the world already has one and it’s free (they look like this, see freetobook’s here).

The situation NOW: Remember there are two parts to Google Hotel Ads the free bit with, we reckon, about 10% of the traffic and the paid section with roughly 90% of the clicks. (Read the blog for further details)

Google Hotel Ads on freetobook : freetobook are already connected to Google Hotel Ads (since 2018) and we provide a managed advertising service for more than and thousand properties in the UK. This advertising service is active now and we’ll continue managing it.

Good news: All properties using the Google Hotel Ads to advertise automatically get the Google free booking link. You can see how that works on this Google blog…

I want free booking links now: if you are eligible (i.e. Hotel type accommodation) and in the UK you can subscribe for our Google Hotel Ads service in your Plus tab this will give you paid and free feeds.

Only free booking links (Zero): You will need to wait a week or so for us to make this option available for you.

HOW? Google Zero will be available in the Tab “Plus” shortly.

The situation SHORTLY:

We’re already busy creating a Google free ONLY service that’ll be available worldwide. This will use our existing feed to provide Google with your rates and availability and the link for bookings at Zero cost. You will not have to pay Google anything for the bookings.

This will be available shortly to all eligible (Hotel type) accommodation worldwide. We will charge a small annual subscription to provide the feed to Google (from freetobook) and deliver the bookings directly into your freetobook diary with reporting.

Google’s own blog and information March 2021 : free hotel booking links and Google Hotel Ads the overall picture from Google

Google’s free booking feed – Why ?

Good news for property owners? We think so!

Google free feed

Just over a week ago Google made a big announcement about free advertising. It’s fair to say it shook up the meta search hotel booking space like a gorilla with a rattle. We all like to have something for free and from an advertising giant like Google, we would surely love it.

But let’s pause for a minute, what is this? We know that the OTAs typically spend in excess of $6 Billion a year with Google on advertising. Are they giving all of this away? No, I’m sure they are not doing that.

So, if it’s not a total giveaway then what is it? What is the free advertising Google are offering and how good is it for accommodation owners? More to the point, WHY have Google done it?

As a Google Hotel Ads feed provider and Ads manager for nearly two years, here at freetobook we have seen the progress and have a few insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Hotel Ads as it stands, and, as it might develop alongside its competitors – chiefly TripAdvisor – in this meta search space.

What is the free bit that Google offer? The new free listing of the rates and availability feed is a section at the foot of the advertising block. It fits in below the paid or sponsored listings and looks a bit like this …

Google free and paid Hotel Ads feeds
Google free and paid feeds – Hotel Ads

For those of you familiar with search engine terms this new “free” block is analogous to “natural” listings. Natural listings are the opposite of paid listings, they are free and they are ordered based primarily on customer preference. If many customers pick a certain supplier for that property it is likely that supplier will float to the top.

Anyone providing a feed to Google can be listed in the free or natural section and the order they are presented will be a secret algorithm known only to Google which is 100% independent of any payment to Google. No advertising payment can ever influence a natural listing, that is certain.

How good is this free “natural” advertising? This is the tricky bit to answer but I think I can. In short, the reality is that it’s as good as Google wish to make it. They are the universal masters of natural listings vs. sponsored or paid listings. Their whole business model has, at its core, the advertising auction to get to the top of the page (where the clicks are) vs. the natural listings that give more authentic content and customer satisfaction.

The answer is probably about 10%. Google is giving away about 10% of the traffic to natural listing. We know this roughly from volumes of bookings and it kind of makes sense as a natural vs. paid split.

Freetobook Distribution
Freetobook distribution for less

It sounds small but to accommodation owners this is a fantastic opportunity. If you are not currently paying Google to advertise in their feed (and the majority are not) then this 10% is actually 100% of something you didn’t have before and for free. If you remember the $6 Billion dollars, they are giving away a chunk of that to massively improve their customer offering and bring in new potential advertisers. Not a bad price for them and remember Google controls the prominence of natural listings (as they always have), so that 10% might not always be 10%, the structure/visibility of that display will continue to change.

What’s in it for accommodation owners? Our feed to Google is direct so it shows to the consumer as “Official site”, this puts properties at an advantage against the OTAs in the natural listings (free section). This is because consumers are drawn to the direct channel when everything else is equal. Every property’s direct feed should by “rights” be at the top of the natural listings and so you could get the 10% of clicks for free. But beware! The OTAs are all also in the free feed and if any OTAs were to have a better rate than yours they would almost certainly come above you in the natural listing. If you are not at the top, it is likely you have given a special offer to an OTA and your direct rates are higher than the OTA rate.

Top Tips freetobook
Tips to be top of the free feed

Now this is the bit worth paying attention to … here are our tips to being top of the natural listing:

a) Have the best rate direct
b) Keep the best availability for your direct bookings
c) Do not accept OTA virtual cards or they will undercut your direct rate
d) Make sure your Google My Business listing is as unique and rich as it can be with reviews, photos, amenities etc. In other words if your direct feed is not at the top it is your fault and you need to fix it – which is as easy as a,b,c,d.

So yes, this is a massive opportunity for the direct booking feed, if you are managing your rates properly you will benefit. For the small number of properties that do not list with the OTAs this is even better news because they will have no competition for their direct bookings, a “no-brainer” as they say.

Why are Google doing this?

Lots of good reasons. Google really cares about the user experience. You use Google search because they are the best search engine. They want you to say you also book via Google meta because it is the best place to find the best rates and availability.

1) Google can only show the best rates and availability if they have all of the properties in the world on board and feeding them with the best on offer. So, on one level, this is a ‘land grab’ to get the whole world’s accommodation listed and bookable.
2) As a customer on Google you want to find the best rate. In the sponsored listing the best rate is not at the top, the top spot is for the highest bidder. This is sub-optimal as a user, why is the best rate hidden down the list of OTAs? Not a good user experience. The natural listings solve this issue because the most popular link comes to the top (most likely the best rate).
3) New advertisers become possible. As google advertising is an auction, these always work better with more bidders. Google would like you to play in the 90% of traffic that isn’t free so they will get you on board with the 10% free and take it from there.
4) Great authentic natural listings are what customer’s ultimately desire. They want to see what the best link is and the only way to do that is to remove the paid side of it.
5) Google probably know that by having all the small independent properties (the “longtail”) on board they will increase their overall bookings including those with the larger chain hotels. Guests want choice and that’s why the OTAs want to have all properties listed.
6) Reviews and content are becoming a bigger part of what Google offers. Having availability next to their accommodation reviews is a very smart move. We have seen the growing importance Google and Facebook place on collecting reviews… another blog in itself.

Google knows how to juggle the supplier’s desire for customers “traffic” with the customer’s desires. They know that if their meta is to work it must work for customers and the most authentic way for it to work is with natural listings providing by definition; what the customer wants at the top of the list.

We know Google has the best tech, they can do the math on advertising bidding better than any other company. They soon will have most of the rates and availability, a very good set of customer reviews and other content, making them the “go-to” place to book a hotel and other travel-related services. If I was a review website or an OTA I would be looking hard to see how I could keep my revenue. If I was an accommodation provider I’d take advantage of the free offer and see what plays out – Google vs. OTA vs. Big review site.

PS: Where Google goes and makes a success, Facebook and Amazon watch to see how its done!

Craig Stewart, Director freetobook